Blatte Blog

Interesting stories from the World of football and beyond... 

‘…a little with the head of Maradona and a little with the hand of God…’

Football in its very essence is a team game, eleven men working together to achieve one result. Having said that, occasionally there are exceptions to the rule. Every now and then a player puts in a performance where they seem to be playing on their own, tying up a whole defence almost single-handedly. Most of these games are one-offs, some are just a reflection of their team mates poor form. In the case of Argentina’s Diego Maradona at the Mexican World Cup in 1986 however, it was simply because he was better than anyone else at the tournament.

Born in 1960 in Buenos Aires, the young Maradona takes to football immediately. At age ten he entertains the half-time crowd at the Argentinos Juniors Stadium with his already unbelievable ball-juggling skills. Five years later he makes his debut for their first team ten days before his sixteenth birthday. As talented as he clearly is, he doesn’t look like the average footballer with his squat 5ft 5in frame. It becomes clear though that Maradona is deceptively strong, quick and importantly can run with the ball just as fast as without. Over the next four years Maradona’s reputation grows and in 1978 he becomes the Metropolitano Championship’s youngest ever top-scorer. He repeats this feat in 1979 and 1980, the latter also being the year when Maradona drives Argentinos Juniors into a second place finish just behind River Plate, their best ever league position to date.

By the time that Boca Juniors purchase Maradona for £1m in 1980, he has already had his first brush with controversy. The £1m fee was a world record at the time for a teenager but he’s already an established international footballer. Maradona made his debut for the Albiceleste in 1977 just four months into his professional football career. Playing in a friendly against Hungary as a 16 year-old, the crowd immediately recognise the potential he represents. Coach César Luis Menotti faces a choice for the 1978 World Cup - Maradona or Mario Kempes, potential or experience? When he opts for Kempes and cuts Maradona from his 25-man squad when announcing his final 22, there’s huge national debate. Maradona himself falls out with Menotti at his exclusion and becomes a polarising figure for the Argentine football public. 

As Argentina win the World Cup and Kempes himself takes the Golden Boot, Menotti’s choice has been vindicated. Maradona, smarting from missing the chance to play for his beloved Argentina in a World Cup on home soil, takes his frustrations out on the pitch. The following year he travels to Japan for the 1979 FIFA World Youth Championship and is exceptional. Voted unanimously as Player of the Tournament, Maradona scores in all but one of Argentina’s six games. The young Argentines leave with the trophy and an outstanding record – played six, won six, scored twenty, and conceded two. Captain Maradona has been the star, pulling the strings when dropping deep and deadly up front. He saves his best performance for the final against the Soviet Union, a 3-1 win where he bags the third goal with a wonderful free kick.

When Boca Juniors sign Maradona it seems to be a marriage made in heaven. Maradona loves Boca and Boca loves him, the local boy who was a childhood fan now being compared to Pelé in terms of his potential. He leads them to a title and is consistently brilliant. The biggest clubs in Europe are now circling eager to pick him up before the World Cup in Spain where it’s felt Maradona is destined to be the star of the tournament. Internationally Diego is now established in the full side and all acrimony with Menotti has been forgotten as in attacking terms, the game plan very much revolves around him. After scoring his first goal against Scotland in 1979 and then his World Youth Championship heroics, he has become the main source of the national team’s inspiration. 

Spain ’82 doesn’t go to plan for Argentina or Maradona. Playing every minute of their first group games, he can’t prevent the holders losing to Belgium in their opener. Picking their form up Argentina thrash Hungary 4-1 in the second game, Maradona plays well and scores twice. A final win over El Salvador secures qualification into a second group stage where Argentina face Italy and Brazil. Despite his best efforts in the face of some overly physical attention, Italy beat them 2-1 and then old rivals Brazil offer a final ignominy. 3-0 down and with Argentina facing elimination from the tournament, the 85th minute sees Maradona lunge at Brazilian substitute Joao Batista clumsily. Despite protests from his team mates, Maradona receives a red card and leaves the tournament in controversy. The holders are out and Maradona has never really sparkled consistently like many were predicting.

Despite the World Cups trials and tribulations Maradona’s mind is immediately elsewhere - he has a new challenge ahead. Boca Juniors have reluctantly agreed to sell their star player while his price is at a premium and that premium is a world record £3,000,000. Spanish giants Barcelona, now managed by Menotti, win the race for the little man’s signature. Club president Jose Luis Nunez has been instrumental in bringing the best prospect in the world to his club.

Maradona struggles at first but finds his feet in a strong Barca side. In 1983 however he suffers a huge blow when the ‘Butcher of Bilbao’ – Athletics’ defender Andoni Goikoetxea Olaskoaga – shatters his left ankle in a horror challenge. Out for four months, on his return he continues to suffer from rough treatment and injury throughout the rest of his time at Barcelona. By 1984 a move away suits both club and Maradona, his form has been patchy and he’s unhappy in the city and with the club’s directors. Juventus are interested but their president rejects the idea of buying Maradona on the grounds he’s too short to cope with the physical Italian league.

Napoli have no such fears. Barcelona are happy to sell to a club who they don’t class as European trophy rivals. Maradona holds talks with the club and is immediately keen on the move and agrees to sign. Another world record fee is brokered, Napoli pay £5,000,000 for el Diego’s services and sell thousands of season tickets on the back of the transfer. Happier domestically and adored by his Italian public, Maradona starts a revolution and Napoli rise to third in Serie A.  

1986 brings a happier Maradona another chance to play at a World Cup. Expectation is at record levels and coach Carlos Bilardo has made Maradona captain and fulcrum of the national side. Qualification has seen Argentina top their group and average two goals a game, they are placed amongst the favourites for the cup from the outset. Like Brazil in 1970, Argentina are naturally acclimatised and ready for the tournament. Originally given to Columbia, the finals were awarded to Mexico after fears about security and resources came to light in 1982. Once again some games will be played at midday and the heat is ferocious. Argentina are drawn into Group A with the holders Italy, Bulgaria and South Korea. With two teams guaranteed to qualify from each group, a third if they are one of the best third placed finishers, Argentina are expected to progress relatively easily.

The Argentinean plan for Mexico ‘86 is all about Diego Maradona. Coach Bilardo has got him relishing in both the responsibility of being captain and his role in the system. Argentina are playing with a loose 3-5-2 that allows Maradona the freedom to play how he likes to play. The freer role lets him come deep and control the game or burst forward to score when the opportunity arises. Their first game approaches and Argentina face South Korea. Italy and Bulgaria have already played out a 1-1 draw so the chance is there for Argentina to take the early initiative.

Maradona is immediately singled out for rough treatment but he has grown stronger than 1982. Argentina now play in a new fashion and predominantly through Maradona - old captain and former talisman Daniel Passarella is not involved due to illness leaving no spectre of ’78 over the team. Six minutes in Maradona is fouled by midfielder Huh Jung-Moo, he collapses clutching his left knee but recovers to take the free kick. As his effort fails to beat the wall, he cleverly heads it forward towards Real Madrid striker Jorge Valdano. Valdano cushions the ball and strikes the opener; Maradona is already having a decisive influence.

Twenty minutes in and Argentina are well on top, Jorge Burruchaga has hit the post from distance and Argentina have another free kick with Maradona over the ball. His cross is headed in by defender Oscar Ruggeri and Argentina have a two goal cushion. It stays that way until the 46th minute when Maradona explodes onto a loose header out wide on the right. Taking on two men he barrels past them and crosses to the far post. Missed by defender and goalkeeper alike, Valdano lurks and taps in his second. Argentina eventually run out 3-1 winners, Maradona has had a hand in all three and it’s clear he's trying to stamp his authority on the tournament already.

Argentina now face the holders and Maradona’s new adopted country Italy. The Italians are well organised and passionately supported, Maradona is man marked and picked up every time he finds a little space. Behind to a sixth minute penalty, he begins to move more expansively to find room desperate not to lose to a side that beat them in ‘82. With his influence on the game growing by the minute, in the 34th minute he slips his marker and breaks into the box. Valdano has flighted a ball his way and having to take it high with both feet off the ground, Maradona conjures a finish that leaves Italian keeper Giovanni Galli rooted to the spot. With the scores now level Argentina continue to knock on the door, Italy remain dangerous and tempers flare. A series of bad challenges from both sides mar the rest of the game. Italy hit the post in the second half but neither side score again. With a 1-1 draw Argentina have three points, Maradona one goal and three assists.

All but assured of qualification barring a goal difference catastrophe in their last game, Argentina face Bulgaria relatively pressure free. Valdano heads them into an early lead and Maradona lights up the first half with a breathtaking run past the entire Bulgarian defence. His shot flashes just wide but it’s a sign of things to come. With ten minutes to go Maradona breaks down the left wing, collects the ball and crosses for Burruchaga to nod in a second. Argentina have walked through their group and qualify top, Maradona is now beginning to hit peak form...

Why is FIFA tolerating fans in blackface at the World Cup?

International soccer's governing body FIFA has been typically forceful in policing fan behavior around the World Cup in Brazil. If you promote the wrong brand of beer, carry the wrong water bottle or bring musical instruments (as Nigeria’s official supporters’ club learned during its game with Iran), FIFA will either eject you or prohibit its use.  But if you show up in blackface, it seems,  security will let you through, and nothing will happen to you.

For example, France’s victory over Switzerland on Saturday was soiled by the behavior of three of its fans in the Arena Fonte Nova stadium in Salvador who decided in dress in blackface and mock the Afro-Brazilian and Caribbean religion, Candomblé.

Not only has FIFA apparently turned a blind eye to this behavior; the media have largely ignored it, too. ESPN showed the three French fans in blackface singing the national anthem, but its announcers let the image pass without comment. 

On Saturday, during Ghana’s match with Germany, at least a dozen German fans turned up in blackface. (An instagram user, Selim_Cool, who posted an image of two white men in blackface with t-shirts with crude “Ghana” insignia, wrote that he spotted at least eight people in blackface.) And some of them were invited to interviews with Brazilian television at the official FanFest, while at the game itself, other fans stopped to have their picture taken with the fans in blackface. Other images of German fans in blackface have emerged on Twitter. Also, during the match, a man alleged by a fan anti-racist group to be a Nazi sympathizer ran onto the field, showing off tattoos that the AP reported expressed support for Hitler and the SS Nazi military unit. Security did not intervene, and it was left to Ghana's midfield enforcer,Sulley Muntari, to escort the man off the field where he was taken away by match stewards. 

Yahoo News reported that there were had been several Neo-Nazi signs at matches involving Russia and Croatia. But when it comes to blackface, major media are simply ignoring it.

Some have suggested we should not be surprised, given the overt racism in European football (black players are routinely subjected to monkey chants and offered bananas in Spain, Italy and large parts of the former Eastern Bloc and Russia). 

Last week when rambunctious Chilean supporters climbed a fence into the Maracana to try to watch their team defeat Spain, the fact that they had pushed through a screen at the media center made headlines around the world and they were widely criticized for breaking the law by trying to see the game without having bought a ticket. But the media, and the authorities who run the game, have yet to challenge the practice of showing up to a game adorned in a style that celebrates centuries of racism against black people. 

For Algeria, football remains a fault line with France...

In April 1958, a few months before the World Cup, two members of the French national team snuck across the border to Italy, and from there to Tunis. For a few days, no one knew where they were. Then they appeared at a press conference alongside other professional footballers who had also left, undetected, from France in the previous weeks. They had decided, they announced, to quit their current teams in order to create a new national team for the place of their birth: the French colony of Algeria.

Instead of playing for France in the World Cup that summer, Mustapha Zitouni and Rachid Mekloufi began touring the world with a team that, though unrecognized by FIFA, drew large crowds wherever they went. Before each game the flag of the Algerian revolution, and the anti-colonial anthem written by a jailed activist, asserted that despite France’s refusal to accept its independence, the nation of Algeria truly did exist. The football team became the best ambassador for the Front de Libération Nationale, which since 1954 had been fighting for the independence of Algeria, and by 1958 was intent on gaining support for their movement throughout the world.

So it was that Algeria’s first football team was born in a gesture of revolt. Fifty-six years later, the country’s team is headed to Brazil. And, surprisingly, two-thirds of its players today were born and raised in France. Nearly a third of the squad is made up of players who have represented France in the country’s youth squads. The choices of these players are far less openly political and those of their predecessors in 1958. Yet taken collectively the presence of so many French born and raised players on the Algerian team can tell us something not only about the state of football but also about the state of society in both France and Algeria.

Saphir Taïder in action against Armenia in a friendly played in Sion, Switzerland, in May 2014.

 Laurent Gillieron / EPA

Among the players who have chosen Algeria is the 22-year-old Saphir Sliti Taïder – a talented, quick, and observant defensive midfielder recently recruited to play for Inter Milan. Born in the small Pyrenean town of Castres, he came up through a series of French football academies, made his professional debut for Grenoble in 2010, and was called up to the French U-18 and U-19 squads, scoring three goals for Le Bleus in international competition. In a 2013 interview about choosing Algeria Taïder thanked French institutions for having helped form him as a player, but insisted that his heart belongs to two other countries: the Tunisia of his father and the Algeria of his mother. After being courted by both – his older brother plays for Tunisia – he ultimately opted for Algeria, and is on his way to Brazil this summer.

Many of his teammates have similar stories. Goalie Raïs M’Bohli – who shone at the 2010 World Cup during his team’s riveting game against the U.S. – was born in Paris in 1986 to a Congolese father and an Algerian mother. He played on the French U-16 and U-17 teams before opting for Algeria. Yacine Brahimi, born in 1990 in Paris, was trained at the youth academy of Paris Saint-Germain and the famed national academy at Clairefontaine, and played consistently on the French youth squads from 2005 to 2012 before opting to play for Algeria in 2013.  

Algeria's midfielder Yacine Brahimi, right, vies for the ball with Armenian midfielder Artur Yuspashyan.

 Philippe Desmazes / AFP / Getty Images

A generation ago, Zinedine Zidane, who led France to its 1998 World Cup victory, could have chosen to play for his parent’s Algeria too. He chose France, explaining it was an easy and natural decision. But the rules were different in Zidane’s time: FIFA didn’t allow players who had played on one country’s youth teams as teenagers to switch to another. The policy was changed before the 2010 World Cup: now players can switch national teams once in their career. Many players are taking advantage of the opportunity, but nowhere in such large numbers as those opting for Algeria.  

Of course the choice of which national team to play for can be a very personal – and strategic – one.  For players who think they are unlikely to be selected for the French national team, opting for another Country is one way to improve their chances of playing at the World Cup. The French-born Algerian players have not tended to suggest a political motivation for their choice: the way Taïder put it was that his heart belonged to the countries of his parents. None have openly declared that they reject France: Taïder expressed gratitude for the training he received in the country’s academies. They have not followed the example of the French-born and raised player Benoît Assou-Ekotto, has made it a point of pride to explain that he would never play for France rather than his father’s Cameroon.

Some within the French Football Federation, however, have come to see the number of French-born and -trained players opting for other national teams as a political problem. In 2010, a whistleblower at the French Football Federation recorded a conversation among high-level administrators (including then coach Laurent Blanc) in which they mused that it might be useful to have a quota system in place in youth academies in the country to decrease the number of “black and Arab” players. Given how critical players of North African, African and Caribbean background have been and still are to French football (Patrick Evra, Karim Benzema, and Mamadou Sakho will be key players for France in Brazil this summer) this was pretty startling, even slightly absurd. But there is a long history of people, including far right politician Jean-Marie Le Pen, complaining that the French team is too black and too Arab.

And maybe some of that, in turn, has influenced the choices of a new generation of footballers like Taïder, M’Bohli and Brahimi, creating a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy. If players of immigrant background in France get the sense that they’re not particularly welcome, they may increasingly look to the homelands of their parents as they think about where to pursue their international careers. With the recent legislative victories of the Front National in France, the dream of a multi-racial Black-Blanc-Beur (black-white-Arab) French team serving as an example of successful integration seems more distant than ever.

Players of immigrant background have always been central to France’s teams, and they still are this year when the likes of Pogba, Evra, and Benzema form the core of the team. But now other European countries have caught up to France: Algeria’s first game in Brazil will be against Belgium, a team who’s success depends on players who are the children of migrants, like the phenomenal Romelu Lukaku, whose parents are from the Congo. At the World Cup, national flags will be everywhere, but many fans and players will have complex, multiple allegiances. When Algeria and Belgium play, the teams will be carrying a complex history of crossings that maps uneasily onto flags and borders. Perhaps, for a time, the pitch will become their real homeland.

In Iran, the World Cup is a perennial political tinderbox

One of the unintended consequences of fixed-term elections is that it can lock the rhythm of politics into to the rhythms of football. Brazil’s quadrennial October presidential contests are always prefaced – and often inflected – by the Seleçao’s summer World Cup campaign. In Iran, too, the cycle of presidential elections has coincided with the culmination of the nation’s World Cup qualifying campaigns; for a country whose relationship with the international community has been so complex and problematic, the presence of Team Melli (as they are known) at the tournament has taken on immense significance.

Football had served as an instrument of soft power and modernization under the Shah, and suffered accordingly during the first decade of the Islamic revolution. Deemed by the theocracy to be at best, foreign and decadent, at worst, blasphemous, football was frowned upon and virtually ground to a halt during the long war with Iraq.

The game’s revival and reformist credentials were clearly established during the 1997 presidential election that pitched the conservative Ali Akbar Nateq Nouri against the more moderate Mohammad Khatami. Nateq Nouri shared his platform with the leading wrestlers of the day; while the victorious Khatami included footballers in his political entourage. 

The opening months of his presidency coincided with the qualification campaign for the 1998 World Cup. When Iran lost to Qatar and then Japan, forcing them into a play-off against Australia, the new regime made a clear statement moderating Tehran’s revolutionary xenophobia: It appointed a foreign coach, Brazilian Vladimir Viera.

Iran beat Australia, and on the final whistle the streets of Tehran and every provincial city filled with people – perhaps as many as six million nationwide. The crowds defied and taunted clerics and the Basiji militias. Women and men openly mixed, some abandoned the veil others danced on the roofs of the Toyota trucks used by the moral militias. The crowd took flowers to the French embassy and cheered “See you in Paris”. When the national team returned to the city, 5,000 women – then and now excluded from the national team’s games – stormed the Azadi stadium to honor the players.

In late 2001 an Iran victory over Iraq saw tens of thousands of youths celebrating in Tehran only to be dispersed by tear gas and police baton charges. Ten days later Bahrain beat Iran, forcing them into a qualifying play-off against Ireland. A rumor on the streets that the regime had told the team to throw the match to prevent another outburst of public celebration prompted pitched battles in Tehran and Esfahan. Iran went on to lose to Ireland.

Three weeks before the 2005 presidential elections, between wealthy businessman and pragmatist Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and conservative populist Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Iran qualified for the 2006 World Cup, beating Bahrain 1-0. As ever people took to the streets to dance, women removed their headscarves and in the Resalat neighborhood of Tehran shopkeepers gave away flowers to the crowd. Iranian flags with Rafsanjani’s face in the center were handed out and flown, but there were reports of the same flag being flown with his face cut out.

Ahmadinejad won the elections, but he was a different kind of conservative, with a strong base among the working class and the veterans of Iran’s devastating war with Iraq – a man who enjoyed football, and grasped its political import. He took a close interest in the performance of the national team, was a regular visitor to their training camps, and is widely thought to have interfered in the fate of coaches. After Ali Daei’s team failed to make it to South Africa 2010, government supporters received a text reading “Due to the importance of national public opinion to Dr. Ahmadinejad, Ali Daei has been forced out”.

Ahmadinejad was returned to office in the disputed election of 2009, and then had to face down a gigantic series of protests by the Green Movement that had backed opposition candidate Mir Hussein Moussavi. Even after the protest movement had been crushed at home, Iran’s final qualifying game against South Korea in Seoul offered an opportunity for resistance. Six players took to the field wearing green wristbands. Team officials initially tried to claim that these were Islamic symbols designed to help the players overcome the Koreans, but the meaning was clear to everyone else.

A change of political fortune has, it appears, defused emotions over the most recent World Cup qualifying campaign. In 2013, the moderate Hassan Rouhani decisively beat his conservative opponents to become president of Iran. Less than a week later the nation qualified for this year’s World Cup, once again playing South Korea in Seoul. The game was a draw and that was enough for Iran (and, as it transpired later, for South Korea too). At home hundreds of thousands partied peacefully. Clerical Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei even hailed the team for bringing national happiness. The only violence came in Seoul, where the Iranian players’ wild celebrations on the pitch after the game prompted Korean fans to hurl abuse, bottles and cans at them. 

Iran’s national team has become a truly national institution, able to attract the support of the secular and the religious, both moderate and conservative forces in Iran. This year universities and schools have changed the exam and holiday schedules to accommodate the World Cup. Public viewing areas are being set up in parks and squares. The country will shut down when the team plays.

Expectations, however, are phenomenally low. In 2006 Iran took just a single point from their three games. This time, Iran’s group – Argentina, Nigeria and Bosnia – offers no easy points and no realistic prospect of getting through to the next round. Coach Carlos Queiroz – a Mozambique-born Portuguese national who has coached South Africa and at Manchester United – has said as much. 

The problem, this time, is not political infighting but, as with so much in Iran, economics and the long-term impact of international sanctions. Unable to organize or fund international games, or persuade the Iranian big clubs to release their players when they are needed, the national team will be the least prepared of any at Brazil 2014. They have played just one friendly this year. At a recent camp in South Africa, effectively abandoned due to low turnout, players were issued with just one track suit for three weeks’ training. In this regard they are truly a team of the people – economically squeezed and for the moment stoic in defeat. Given the passion and pressures currently under wraps in Iran one wonders what a victory – however improbable – might mean.

Dan Gaspar coaches Iran's goalkeepers...

Connecticut resident Dan Gaspar coaches Iran's goalkeepers, but he's more concerned about what happens on the field than the geopolitics of the sport

 

In the unlikely event that the United States and Iran face each other in the 2014 World Cup, at least one Iranian coach is not going to have trouble discussing sports and politics with American players. Because Dan Gaspar, Iran’s goalkeeping coach, is an American who lives in Connecticut.

The proprietor of Star Goalkeeper Academy and University of Hartford head coach is part of the most diverse staff in the World Cup. Iran’s head coach is Portugal’s Carlos Queiroz, who can also claim staffers from Australia, Mozambique, and Cape Verde. “It’s been a fantastic experience these last three years in Iran,” Gaspar tells TIME. “I’ve never felt being an American was a detriment. I have found it interesting: and everyone has been very respectful.”

Of the 32 teams in Brazil, Iran has been given the slimmest chance of advancing, a prediction the Iranians have used as a motivating factor. Indeed, just getting to Brazil was a struggle. An unexpected win over South Korea, in Seoul, in the Asia qualifying tournament punched their ticket there. For Gaspar, it was the culmination of a three-year effort led by Queiroz to get Iran back into a World Cup final. Queiroz is one of soccer’s master coaches and a mentor to Gaspar, who is of Portuguese descent. He was on Portugal’s staff when Queiroz led that team in South Africa in 2010. “Once you catch that bug, you want to relive that experience,” Gaspar says.

Even in Iran? Although he was not exactly encouraged by friends and family to take the job, it proved irresistible. “Professionally it was an opportunity to work in a different part of the world. I’ve always been adventurous from a football and cultural standpoint,” he says. Soccer inevitably gets tied up in politics in most countries, and that was certainly the case in 1998 when Iran beat the U.S., 2-1, in Lyon, France, setting off joy in Iran. In that game, players on both teams took a joint pre-game photo instead of the traditional individual team photos to underline sport above politics. This year, the global politics are getting more intertwined, too: Shiite Iran backs the Syrian government against some Western-funded Sunni rebels. But at the same time the U.S. and Iran have common cause against Sunni jihadists who are now besieging Shiite-ruled Iraq, where U.S. investment in both blood and money has been huge.

Political tangles are not Gaspar’s issue. In Brazil, as in all World Cups, the coaching staffs live in the cocoon of competition and can’t look beyond the next game. Iran is considered easy pickings in its group with Nigeria, Argentina and Bosnia-Herzegovina. Most of the team plays in the obscure Iranian professional league, not in Europe’s top flight competition. “It’s quite a challenge. We look it as an advantage–our guiding principle has always been team above individual,” says Gaspar. “We have established a team that is humble, committed, that’s willing to follow a discipline that we have created.” With such a polyglot staff, the biggest issue is communication– not necessarily translating words, but in understanding the language of soccer, of emotions.

Iran has been training in South Africa to prepare for its first game against Nigeria on Monday. Gaspar promises that the team is ready, having prepared a flexible formation to adapt to whatever the Nigerians can throw at them. And he got a good look at Nigeria recently when the U.S. team played the Super Eagles in a pre-Cup friendly. The Yanks beat Nigeria 2-1, and looked good doing it. “I was very impressed with their performance against Nigeria,” he says, “They couldn’t come to Brazil any better prepared.” If Iran can do likewise, the American in Tehran will be off to a great adventure.